16 March, 2021

Road Safety: what's happening in Europe?

Road safety was back on the agenda today in the European parliament’s Transportation Committee. Here’s what I had to say to Matthew Baldwin who has responsibility for Road safety within the European Commission: Mr. Baldwin, many thanks for coming to speak to us today about this very important issue. 

Behind the road safety statistics lie human tragedies. Last Saturday, a young schoolboy David McHale died in a crash in the West of Ireland. Every week, 500 people die on EU roads. We are not meeting our targets, our Sustainable Development 2030 Goals. We need to progressively ramp up our ambition over time and get to Vision Zero sooner. I therefore have a number of questions: 

 Firstly, will the Commission commit to publishing a strategy on safe active mobility that puts the safety of vulnerable road users first? The revision (Directive (EU) 2019/1936) of the Directive on Road Infrastructure Safety management Directive 2008/96/EC was welcome, but it covers rural roads, not urban roads. 
If our urban roads were a factory floor, it would be shut down on health and safety grounds. We must up our game. Can we ensure urban roads are assessed for their safety, particularly for the most vulnerable? Can we make them safe and attractive for pedestrians, and indeed microbility? Covid-19 saw a drop in car journeys, and a boom in active mobility, and a drop in road accidents. We need to capitalise on these changes, because not only do we help protect road users, we reduce emissions and pollution, reduce congestion and its negative economic effects, and we promote the health of citizens. All such policy areas should feed into such a strategy. 

 Secondly, we urgently need to address speeding. Here in Brussels for example we are seeing the rollout of a 30km/h city-wide speed limit, average speeds are down which is good news, and countless studies have shown the effectiveness of such a strategy in reducing road deaths and injuries. The WHO states that for car occupants in a crash with an impact speed of 80 km/h, the likelihood of death is 20 times what it would have been at an impact speed of 30 km. Will the Commission therefore come forward with a recommendation on speed that in line with a Safe System approach? This could promote 40 km/h, not 50 km/h on radial routes, 30km/h speed limit on other urban roads. We should also consider lower speed limits lower on local roads where children play. For rural roads, 70km/h could similarly help reduce the number of accidents. On this point, the Commission should explore tying EU funding to the development and implementation of Sustainable Urban Mobility plans, and rural mobility plans. In both instances, road safety and the protection of vulnerable road users should be central to the plans.

 Finally, when it comes to enforcement, there is a need to recognise driving disqualifications, penalty points systems across different Member States, and I would urge the Commission to include this in its revision of the cross-border enforcement directive. Penalty Points for speeding or drunk driving penalty points should not magically disappear when the driver crosses an international border.

In reply Matthew Baldwin said the following:

"Mr Cuffe you ask important questions. I'm not sure I can answer them all. Will we produce a strategy on safe and active mobility? I hear you loud and clear. We will be addressing that issue again in the urban mobility package, which is coming out later this year. 

"You are right to say there is only a rule that requires Member States to look at rural roads; they may take urban issues into account, and for the first time, thanks to the pressure from a number of groups, vulnerable users’ needs must be taken into account.

"You’re right also to draw attention to the overall impact of active mobility in terms of the health of our citizens and the calls for sustainability. On 30 km per hour speed limits, I hear you loud and clear. You are right, speed levels are down in Brussels by 9% over the first couple of months. And the idea you have of tying European funding to sustainable and rural mobility plans is an interesting one. We need to protect the most vulnerable people on our roads. And this is something again we could look at in our urban mobility package later this year."

I was pleased with his replies, but we must do more. I intend working with the World Health Organisation and European Transport Safety Council and others to push for progress on making our roads and streets not just safer, but much more inviting to all, particularly the most vulnerable.

04 March, 2021

Some thoughts on a Biden Presidency


On January 20th, a new dawn broke over America, taking it out of 4 long years of darkness brought about by the frenzied and belligerent Trump Administration. Many across the US and indeed quite a few people here in Europe breathed a sigh of relief when President Joe Biden was sworn into office. The grownups were finally back in the room, and they brought the scientists back with them.
Many of the policies and actions of the Trump White House were met with dismay. The suggestions of drinking bleach as a cure-all to COVID_19. The images of tiny unaccompanied children sitting before judges in immigration courts. The violence and use of force deployed against BLM supporters for peacefully protesting. The depravity of the Capital riot seemingly encouraged and applauded by the then President Trump. The lowering of environmental standards such as revoking limits on dangerous methane emissions during oil and gas drilling operations that were ushered into legislation alongside almost gleeful declarations that climate change was a hoax. President Biden now has an opportunity to not only roll back on the damage wrought by Trump but to deliver on his own campaign slogan - Build Back Better.

Given the ticking clock on climate change - environmental policy is as good as any place to start. On day one, President Biden signed the executive order to re-join the Paris Climate Agreement, which will come into effect at the end of January. The internationally binding treaty, which Trump left the day before the 2020 US election commits countries to keep global warming well below 2°C. Re-joining the Paris Climate Agreement is a welcome move, and it brings the United States commitments in line with 190 other countries. It also marks the first steps on the road to delivering the Biden Administration’s $2 trillion climate and environment package.
The Biden climate plan, like the EU Green Deal, is undoubtedly ambitious but urgently necessary. It matches the EU goals of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 by creating a series of overarching climate change tackling polices. It aims to end fossil fuel emissions from US power plants by 2035. Much like our own EU renovation wave- an initiative I led on in the European Parliament, the Biden climate plan will upgrade and retrofit 4 million buildings and homes over the next four years to increase energy efficiency. The Biden climate plan can create millions of new jobs in energy, transport and construction through the upgrading of infrastructure and moving toward public transportation in larger more urban areas- something we are also trying to do in the EU.
It certainly seems that President Biden and Vice President Harris get the need for urgent climate action and understand how it affects people’s daily lives. Appointing an internationally recognised and experienced climate team - including former Obama Secretary of State John Kerry inspires confidence. The idea of a just transition for poorer communities is also at the heart of this new policy approach. Something alien to the previous administration. Disadvantaged communities are expected to receive some 40% of the overall benefits of the Biden climate plan through more affordable and sustainable housing, training and retraining the workforce, and tackling air and water pollution. As is the case in Europe, to tackle the climate emergency successfully, we must leave no one behind and ensure, as a priority, that the resources are there to help the most vulnerable.
The comparisons between both the EU’s and the US’s new scientific approach to climate change are there for a reason. Ireland and the EU have always had strong ties with the US. Being able to work in tandem on tackling the climate emergency will only strengthen the transatlantic partnership. It will allow us to support and enable progressive and sustainable targets while also being able to call each other out if our policy areas and legislation are not hitting agreed climate goals.
We won’t see change overnight. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Even the process of re-joining the Paris Agreement takes some time. And while the Biden climate plan doesn’t go quite as far as the Green New Deal proposed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and backed by Bernie Sanders in 2019 which called for zero carbon emissions by 2030-it is a radical improvement on the last lot! It’s a plan the EU can work with.